Chief prosecutor in Lim Guan Eng case also in the public spotlight

Attorney- General Apandi leads the prosecution in the case, which has political overtones.
Attorney- General Apandi leads the prosecution in the case, which has political overtones.

The corruption charges against Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng arguably make it the most sensational court case in Malaysia since 2008, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged a second time with sodomy.

Now, as then, eyes will be focused not just on the accused, but also on the chief prosecutor, as the case has strong political overtones.

Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali is leading the prosecution team in the high-profile case, the first time he is doing so since he was appointed to the post last July.

"God willing, I will lead the prosecution team tomorrow," he told the Bernama news agency on Wednesday evening.

 
 

He will be assisted by six deputy public prosecutors, according to court documents shown by the Malaysiakini news site yesterday.

The case will come up for mention again on Sept 22.

Mr Apandi, 65, read law at the University of London and was a deputy public prosecutor in Terengganu and Kelantan from 1977 to 1980. He later became a judge in the Federal Court, the country's highest court. He was in private practice between 1982 and 2003.

But Mr Apandi is remembered by most Malaysians as the man who replaced Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail as attorney-general on July 28 last year, the same day Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak sacked Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

The removal of Tan Sri Muhyiddin and Mr Abdul Gani took place amid intense scrutiny of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the nearly US$700 million (S$943 million) found in the Prime Minister's bank accounts in 2013.

In January, Mr Apandi controversially cleared Datuk Seri Najib of any wrongdoing, saying the millions of dollars found in his bank accounts came from Saudi Arabia, and that most of the money had been returned.

Mr Apandi said at the time that the money had not been "given corruptly" and had not been used as "inducement or reward" for Mr Najib to do anything in his capacity as prime minister. He also said Mr Najib had returned most of the money to the Saudi royals in August 2013.

Opposition leaders are accusing the government of double standards.

On the one hand, they say, the Attorney-General cleared Mr Najib of wrongdoing when the foreign financial authorities are still probing the money transfers. On the other hand, they add, Mr Apandi is bent on prosecuting Penang's Chief Minister on what the opposition has claimed to be a trumped-up charge.

Lim told reporters yesterday: "Sadly, there is no corruption with huge RM50 billion debts or RM2.6 billion... but it is now corruption even when the alleged corrupt party did not gain any benefit."

The RM50 billion was roughly the debt burden of 1MDB at one point and the RM2.6 billion, the amount found in Mr Najib's accounts in ringgit.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak has urged people to let both sides present their cases in court.

Leading the defence team is Mr Gobind Singh Deo, also a senior member of Lim's Democratic Action Party.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Chief prosecutor also in the public spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe